September 4, 2016

Born Yesterday

The reader follows as the family drifts from mainstream Adventism to their own interpretation of biblical religion.

Merle Poirier
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Born Yesterday, Rachel Williams-Smith, Pacific Press Publish- ing Association, 2016, 276 pages, US$16.99. Reviewed by Merle Poirier, operations manager, Adventist Review.

Headed for vacation, I scanned the titles of free books in our office. I selected Born Yesterday, not because I was impressed with the title, cover, or subject, but because nothing else appealed. To be honest, my intention was to start, maybe finish, but probably not return with it. Now I’m writing a review. It was that good.

Rachel Williams-Smith writes a riveting autobiography. Each chapter is compelling. Raised in a strict, extremely conservative Adventist home, the reader follows as the family drifts from mainstream Adventism to their own interpretation of biblical religion. Eventually, Williams-Smith escapes from strange beliefs and practices to spiritual freedom. In the process she struggles in her faith, her relationship with God, and her purpose in life. She is a survivor, a work in progress, and the writing demonstrates a raw honesty and incredible memory for detail.

Had I read the draft, though, I would have offered several suggestions.

The writing is superb, with just the right balance in details and descriptions, but there are many typographical errors, missing words, and incorrect punctuation. I would hope the next edition would be corrected. I found them distracting.

There is one use of a foul word I felt inappropriate, not only for the author, but the publishing house—both Adventist.

While the events are personal and specific to the author, I found the frequency of religious married men who preyed on women alarming. Certainly men approaching women for sexual favors happens within all cultures and faiths, but I wondered at the overall impression left about this particular community. In addition, while she states that some names are changed, it is unclear which ones. I would have appreciated the addition of some indicator for those who may have missed this note.

Last, the author states that telling this story “is the reason for which I was born.” While I will not argue, I will offer caution. Williams-Smith’s story is strange, unusual, and disturbing. While God is woven within the telling, the events are so troubling that one can easily be more focused on the author than God. To tell a story such as this is a way to demonstrate God’s redeeming love; however, the testimony may need to supersede the details in order for Him to shine through.